Monday, January 28, 2008

Sulpicius Severus, Life of St. Martin 17

Here is the latest installment of our St. Martin story.


At the same time, the slave of a certain proconsul, Taetradius, was seized by a demon and was tortured in a painful way. Therefore, when Martin was asked to lay hands on him, he ordered the slave to be brought to him, but in no way could the spirit be brought from the cell where he was. He savaged those who came with raging teeth. (2) Then, Taetradius fell prostrate around the knees of the blessed man, begging that Martin himself should descend to that cell where the demon-possessed man was held. Martin refused to enter the house of an impious pagan. (3) For Taetradius, at that time, was entangled and held by pagan error. Therefore, Taetradius swore that, if the demon was taken away from the boy, he would become a Christian. (4) Then, Martin, after laying hands on the boy, cast the spirit from him. When he saw this, Taetradius believed in the Lord Jesus. Immediately, he was made a catechumen and not long after he was baptized. He always honoured Martin with astonishing affection as the author of his salvation.

(5) At the same time, in the same town, the head of a certain household entered and, hesitating on the threshold, said he had seen a horrible demon in the atrium of the house, When Martin ordered it to leave, a certain person who was staying in the interior part of the house seized the head of the household and the wretch began to rage with his teeth and tear at anyone who was opposite him. With the house disturbed, the family thrown into confusion and people turning in flight, Martin placed himself opposite the raging man. First, he ordered him to stand. (6) When the man ground his teeth and threatened to bite him with a gaping mouth, Martin brought his fingers into his mouth. "If you are able," he said, "devour them." (7) As if he received glowing iron in his gullet, the man, drawing his teeth far back, avoided touching the fingers of the blessed man. When the spirit was forced to flee from the besieged body through punishments and tortures (not was it permitted for it to leave through the mouth), it was discharged through a flux of the stomach, leaving foul remains.


Here we return to the healings of St. Martin.

The first of the cures, I think, are meant to echo some of Jesus' cures of demoniacs. In particular, I think there is an echo of the centurion's slave in Matthew 8,5-13 and Luke 1-10 in which the slave of an outright pagan (and Roman, hence, oppressor!) is healed by Jesus as well as the cure of the Canaanite woman's daughter (Matthew 15, 21-28 and Mark, 7, 24-30) whom Jesus cured, albeit reluctantly and in response to the faith of the Canaanite woman.

Clearly, the fit is not perfect with either story. The centurion refuses to allow Jesus to enter his house because it was not worthy for him, a Jew, to enter a Gentile house. Taetatradius has no such qualms and begs Martin to come into his house, despite the fact that he, Taetradius, wasn't even a Christian. The reluctance to enter is entirely Martin's, so it casts a rather different colour to the story.

Similarly, the fact that Jesus hesistated from entering the Canaanite woman's house matches well with Martin's hesitation to enter Taetradius' house. Yet, Jesus was convinced to do the healing because of the woman's faith in him, so he relented from his opposition. Martin is only convinced by Taetradius' very conditional vow to become a Christian, if Martin could cure his slave. This kind of bargaining is very much in line with pagan practice, although it looks like Taetradius seized his faith wtih both hands, once he accepted it. The final line of the episode, I think, is meant to prevent us from thinking of this conversion as a conversion of convenience.

The second episode, I don't think, has any direct Scriptural resonance. The calm shown by Martin before the raging demon-possessed man is parallel to Jesus' cool-headedness and authority in dealing with even the most raging demon-possessed people. It is, also, entirely consistent with his calm in dealing with raging pagans. Secure in God's protection, Martin stands up to the demons and wins. Of course, it is understood that this is God's victory, not Martin's, but the calm is a sign that Martin isn't just another wonder-worker (whether Christian or pagan, these were a dime a dozen at the time), but an outright holy man.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Patristics Carnival VIII- Call for Submissions

Well, it is time for another Patristics Carnival--the eighth in the series. I'm hosting again.

The guidelines remains the same as Modest Proposal entry back in November, 2006 and my additions in August, 2007.

The last day of submission will be January 30th and the postings will be up later by the week of February 8. .

Remember you can offer submissions on the carnival site or the dedicated e-mail (


Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Askesis of Blogging

This post is a bit of a departure from my normal posts, but I have been thinking a bit about the subject of blogging over the last few weeks and, to some degree, this kind of reflective navel-gazing is de rigour in blogging circles. So, I thought this could be the time.

Truthfully, I decided to write on this topic this week because of an exchange I was having with another blog which got rather heated on my side, largely because aspects of a post got up my left-nostril (one of my expressions for being annoyed-I don't know why it is important that it is the left nostril, so don't ask). Now, this kind of little explosion is not uncommon in blogsphere and, as explosions go, it was kind of small. It isn't like it sparked blog and counter-blog entries for weeks on end or made the news. Still, it is sometimes these small explosions which reveal our actual practice as bloggers, not our sometimes fulsome ideals in posts such as this.

The questions raised by this contre-temps are intensified, I think, by the fact that I am a Christian and I'm trying to write in a way that is consistent to my faith, whether here or in the comments on other blogs. One of the things that I firmly believe is that we are called to find and practice the presence of God in all that we do day to day (a la Brother Lawrence), even in this world of code and word which we call blogsphere. In that sense, like many other tasks we spend our time on, blogging can (and should) become an askesis for us (a spiritual discipline) which is designed to help us deepen our faith by finding God in where we are. Since we are dealing with real-live people in blogsphere (no matter how much the anonymity of the Internet seeks to hide it), we are constantly bumping against the two Great Commandments: having no God except God (our focus isn't to aggrandize ourselves, but to serve God) and loving our neighbour as ourselves (how do we interact with our fellow bloggers/commentators?).

So, what is the askesis of blogging? Certainly, they are a set of practices designed to bring us closer to God. Certainly, many of them come off as merely common sense or ethical. Don't mis-represent the truth. Don't get into ad hominem accusations. Don't give false witness. Those, I think are obvious enough not to provoke comment.

However, the real spiritual work, the real askesis, has to be found in the less certain, gray-areas of blogging. Am I taking the time to understand what someone is saying? How do I react to what I think is an unjust accusation? Am I charitable in my disagreements with people? Do I seek the truth, not my way, but God's way? Do I honestly love the person I'm agreeing with or do I just want to score a point? Am I just arguing for arguing sake?If I'm honest about these, I can't say that I'm always successful in them. I do post hastily and angrily without really listening to what someone is really saying, not what I think they're saying. I do treat some comments as attacks to be parried (if possibly, pre-emptively) rather than a person's honest thoughts. I do indulge in debating tactic to 'win' the argument without asking what God wants in this.

Still, an askesis taken on doesn't mean an instantaneous change in one's outlook or practice. The old monastics talk about askesis as a refining process in which the gold or silver is purified slowly and painstakingly from the dross. So, in the askesis of blogging, I can see and be grateful for my progress from my early days commenting on various bulletin boards (the ancestors to the blog). I am more careful about when I post and how. I am less inclined to indulge useless arguments, but find ways to break free of them graciously. I am starting to see that, as John Howard Yoder puts it, "Love of enemy must include love of the intellectual adversary, including intellectual respect for the holders of positions one must in conscience reject" and act accordingly. Like any askesis, I am being taught to leave my desire to win and be seen as smarter than my opponents where they belong; in the ditch along the side of the road.

I'm not there yet, but, by God's grace, there is progress. Perhaps with my prayers and yours as well, I will get there. God willing.


Monday, January 14, 2008

Book Review: D.H. Williams, Evangelicals and Tradition

Over the holidays, I finished D.H. Williams' Evangelicals and Tradition; a companion volume to Ronald Heine's book on the Fathers and the Old Testament which I reviewed back in November. I was anxious to get my hands on Williams' book, largely because Williams in the series editor for the Evangelical Ressourcement series from Baker Academic. So, I was interested to see Williams' vision of how the Fathers connect with an evangelical theological stance.

What I found was not much that was new to me, especially because I've been reading evangelical theologians like D.H. Williams for seven or eight years or so. As a self-described catholic evangelical, I agree with William's concerns about the Protestant dismissal of tradition and his belief that this entails a catastrophic failure in our Christian memory. Part of the reason that I remain an Anglican is that I firmly believe that Anglicanism retains that sense that catholicity is important, but also insists on the importance of the Protestant re-visioning of Christian faith. While Williams' aims at a more free church audience among evangelicals, I find much value in his call for ressourcement and wonder how it might be applied to Anglicanism whose nineteenth century resourcement (the Oxford Movement) has fizzled into a widespread taste for incense, candles and bells, but little concern with the theological/spiritual legacy of the Fathers and the Early Church.

Williams' aims for his project of recalling evangelicals to tradition, as expressed in the Series introduction, emphasize this focus on the free church tradition. He states.
"Series readers will see how (1) Scripture and early tradition were both necessary for the process of orthodox teaching, (2) there is a reciprocal relationship between theology and the life of the Church, (3) the liberty of the Spirit in a believer's life must be balanced with the continuity of the church in history and (4) the Protestant Reformation must be integrated within the larger and older picture of what it means to be catholic."
For those unacquainted with the free church tradition and controversies, several of these aims may seem odd. However, I think Williams is right to emphasize the connection of our life of faith with the continuity of the church with history. All too often Protestants have a tendency to dismiss anyone earlier than the Reformers (at best) as irrelevant (at best) or dangerous. Part of the reason for this lack of historical consciousness is a naive understanding of sola scriptura as meaning that the only interpretations that matter are the individual's. Williams rightly points out that the Reformers themselves vehemently disagreed with this take, but rather meant that Scripture was the final authority to which one must appeal, but that this appeal did not exclude other authorities such as tradition. Thus, as he suggests on p.96 (following John Wesley), the meaning of solus in this expression is primarily, not exclusively. In itself, this is a crucial point and, in this theological world of individualized exegesis, should be repeated often.

In the course of his discussion, Williams deals with the definitions of tradition, the 'canonical' quality of the early, especially apostolic, tradition, the link of Scripture and tradition and the Protestant tradition in light of the earlier traditions from the Fathers. There are, certainly, too many topics and good points made to enumerate here, but there are a couple which stand out in my mind.

First, Williams makes the valuable point that, among the Fathers, the authority of the books which would later become the Bible was not based on a assumption that they were canonical right away. Williams goes through the process of the development of the canon, but insists rightly that we really can't talk about canon much earlier than the fourth or fifth centuries. Rather, they focused on the apostlicity of these writings. That is, the Fathers firmly believed that certain gospels and letters reflected accurately the teachings of Jesus Christ as told by the apostles. This isn't a new interpretation, of course, but I think it is a valuable one because it undercuts both the naive 'divine fax-machine' model of Scriptural inspiration and the 'human document' model. The situation with the these writings was much more fluid that I think any of us really understand, but I think this insistence on the apostolic authority of certain writings is getting us close to understanding why these writings were quoted so often and why they eventually did coalesce into a recognized canon.

Second, Williams makes an important point that the Reformers were not so much trying to establish a new church, but rather top reclaim the catholic one that they felt had been marred by abuses. This means that their view of the past was that they were in continuity with the Christian past in ways that the even the Tridentine Roman Catholic vision could not be. This insistence on the continuity of the Protestant tradition to the early church has been and continues to be expressed in disputes on who is more in continuity with the early church; a dispute I find profoundly uninteresting (my answer is both and neither-the early church was that different). Yet, I think William's point is an important clue on how Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics and Protestants need to relate to the church of the Fathers: namely, that the early and patristic church represents a common heritage and one which we all must engage with.

As I end this review, I'm very conscious that I've barely scrapped the surface of this excellent book. For all its accessible style, helpful ideas run thick and fast in this book and I really must re-read it in the near future.


Saturday, January 05, 2008

Patristics Carnival VII

Here is the Patristic Carnival VII, featuring offerings from December, 2007. It was a busy month! Enjoy the offerings!

Front Gate: Introductions to the Fathers

Nothing this month.

The Midway: Articles on the Fathers

Mike Aquilina on The Way of the Fathers blog features Pope Benedict's talks on John Chromatius, and St. Paulinus of Nola, , compares the episcopal combat styles of St. Nicolas of Myra (yes, that St. Nick!) and Pope Zephyrinus and prays for unity(I should have included this one in the Christian Reconciliation Carnival 10!) and reviews the senses of Christmas

As part of the Christian Reconciliation Carnival 10, Weekend Fisher on the Heart, Mind Soul and Strength blog muses over using the Church Fathers to de-bug Christianity.

First Apostle quotes St. Augustine on orthodoxy and muses over how Anglicans can work out what is orthodox.

Tim Trautman on The God Fearin' Forum ponders Clement of Alexandria and metrosexuals. The latter don't come off very well. Odd that.

Danny Garland on the Irish Catholic and Dangerous blog features a discussion of the development of the doctrine of papal infallability and an analysis of the necessity of patristic study for priests.

Roger Pierce on the Thoughts on Antiquity blog discusses publishing patristic or almost-patristic texts today.
Malcolm ZYZ on the From the Outside In blog discusses talking points between Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants about tradition

Scrammy on the Authentic blog posts a link to his paper on his answer to Christian hesitation about certainty.

Mike Rizzo on the Mystery of Truth and E=MC2 blog contempates the patristic conception of theology as system-restore button for Christians.

The Rodeo: Patristic catenae

Dave Armstrong on the Biblical Evidence for Catholicism blog defends St. Athanasius from being co-opted by Protestants with a catena of Athanasius' catholic statements.

Jody on the Jody's Stuff blog discovers that Irenaeus and the early Church Fathers were pre-trib.

MG on The Well of Questions blog begins to consider the Fathers and Theistic Arguments and moves on to Athanasius' contribution to the argument.

On this blog and as part of the Christian Reconciliation Carnival 10, I wrote on Protestants and Patristics.

Mike Olseon on the Pseudo-Polymath blog answers and critiques my above post.

Exhibition Place: Biographies of the Fathers

Peter Rival on the Utter Muttering blog features a biography of the patron saint of his blog, St. Ambrose.

The Marketplace: Book Reviews

Nothing in this category this month.

The Foreign Exchange Tent: Translations

On this blog, I continue my translation of Sulpicius Severus' Life of St. Martin.

The Apocryphal Aisle: Christian Apocrypha

April DeConick on The Forbidden Gospels blog features an expansion of her discussion of the Gospel of Judas in the New York Times, offers a Christmas Gnostic shopping list, responds to Robert Eisenmann's suggestion that she is conservative and offers a retrospective on 2007